According to statistics provided by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), in the one-minute timeframe that it takes you to read the first few sentences of this article, 20 people in the U.S. have been assaulted physically.
The suspect? Someone who claims to love them.
The NCADV goes on to report that, over their lifetime, women have a one-in-three chance of being physically victimized. For men, the risk is one-in-four risk that they will experience the same.
Sadly, roughly 700,000 children also find themselves at the hands of the abusers annually, with the National Children’s Alliance indicating that, in four out of five cases, the abuser is the child’s parents.
But what do these numbers mean to you?
Identifying abuse is the first step
As a doctor of chiropractic, you’re in close contact with your patients daily, which also means that you in a prime position to identify whether abuse may be occurring. This is critical for a number of reasons.
First, interacting with someone who’s being mistreated at home requires that you communicate with them in a certain way so as not to add to their trauma. For instance, Stanford’s School of Medicine suggests that medical professionals inquire about abuse-related concerns only when one-on-one with the patient in a “private environment.”
Stanford also shares that patients appreciate the values of compassion and non-judgment in their healthcare providers, which is why they ask abuse-related questions in a way that incorporates these ideals at intake. Specifically, they ask: “Because difficult relationships can cause health problems, we are asking all of our patients the following question: Does a partner, or anyone at home, hurt, hit, or threaten you?”
Second, if the patient is being abused, it may help them to know that you’re an ally, someone who’s there to help should they want or need it. This can potentially strengthen the doctor-patient bond, making it easier for them to share with you the truth regarding their situation, physical condition, and health, ultimately enabling you to provide more effective treatment sessions.
Signs of abuse
So how do you know if your patient is being abused? While there are no definitive answers to this question as everything is circumstantial, it’s important to realize that different age groups tend to have different indicators of abuse.
For example, children who are abused physically often have unexplained injuries or injuries that don’t correspond with how they say they occurred says the staff at Mayo Clinic. And if the abuse is emotional in nature, the child may be withdrawn, aggressive, depressive, rebellious, or defiant.
Signs of abuse in adults also include injuries that cannot be explained or don’t make sense with the story provided, but may also appear if someone has an overly dominant partner who makes all of the decisions or prevents the person from speaking or acting in a specific way, according to Donna M. White, LPCI, CACP. Other signs to watch for are oversized clothes (worn to hide bruises and marks), low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety says White.
If the victim is elderly, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Community Living says you may notice “bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions, and burns” or “bruises around the breasts or genital area,” the second of which are potential indicators of sexual abuse. Other warning signs of elder abuse are bedsores, poor hygiene, withdrawal, depression, sudden change in financial resources, and excessive arguing with the caregiver.
To learn more about how to spot abuse in your patients, how to better help patients who are being abused, or simply about abuse and domestic violence in general, here are some additional online resources to consider:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- National Child Abuse Hotline
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline
- National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
- National Center on Elder Abuse
- A Guide to Recognizing Elder Abuse
- Recovery Village Domestic Violence Resource Page